Sunday, December 29, 2013

Year In Review / Best Of

As is customary at this time of year a blog post cop out is in order. Rather than come up with something engaging, intelligent, or funny to ramble on about I'm going to do a "Best of" and a personal year in review. I'll do the "Best Of" portion first because most people will probably enjoy that more, although the year in review piece may be interesting to a few people as well. I'll let you decide.

Best Of Potato Chip Math 2013!


Most viewed posts:
  1. "Size Matters", August 25
    • This surprise hit of the year was successful for a few reasons. First, it had a very searchable title [smile, wink], secondly it was on a topic that every writer/blogger struggles with at some point ("How many words do I need?"). Lastly, someone else posted this on Reddit in the /r/books subreddit and people clicked the living hell out of it. It's now my most viewed post of all time.
  2. "Raiders of the Lost Art", September 29
    • This post on the decline of handwriting and how I could care less seemed to resonate with a lot of people. For some reason there are those who still think it should be taught in schools - in English class (I say leave it for art class and teach more useful skills in English).
  3. "Your Comment is Awaiting Moderation", September 1
    • Another successful post mostly because it's a topic that just about every blogger has had to make a decision on at some point ("Do I moderate the comments on my blog?"). If you've read my blog before then you know that I do not, however, please be respectful.

Most commented on post:
  • "One of These Facts is Actually a Lie", March 17
    • The easiest way to get people to comment on your blog is to hold a contest in which the winner must comment on the post to win. The actual contest was secondary to the fun guessing game I put together in order to share a bit more information with my readers.
  • Honourable Mention to "Your Comment is Awaiting Moderation", September 1
    • Worth noting as it was a non-contest post AND it was about blog comments!

Longest posts:

Shortest posts:
I can only find one trend between the length of my posts and the number of views each receives. My average post was 741 words (including this one) with the median value being 728 (same number of posts with fewer words as there are more words). If I look at the view rank of the posts for above and below the average and median it's about the same BUT if I look at raw number of views for each half then what I find is the posts below the average and median receive about 35% fewer views. Moral of the story: I will keep my posts around 750 words for better viewing (not sure how a 2,000 word post will do and I'm not sure I want to try).

Least viewed posts:
Reading these back at least two of those thee posts suck outright, with the remaining one in the "not very good" category. That's okay though, they can't all be gold. Every artist needs a Gigli on their resume ;)

      My favourite post:
      • "Equality Means Equal", June 29, 10th most viewed post in 2013
        • I like this post because it speaks directly to how I feel about the issue of equal rights for all humans. Equality is an absolute. There is no room for interpretation. Get on board with it.

        WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE POST?
        • Post a link to the title and date of publication in the comments, along with why it was your favourite!

        Now for the Year in Review portion of the show. Back in January I set some pretty ambitious targets. Not necessarily resolutions, but sort of. Here they are along with how I think I did:

        • When one of my kids is nearby I will put my laptop or phone aside, and even if they are not desiring my attention, I will give it to them
          • I did not too badly with this one. The biggest problem is that my kids are growing up and don't need or want as much attention from me or my wife any more!


        • When asked to do something by my wife, I will do it right then or I will set a reminder in my phone if it needs to be done later
          • Phone reminders help. I think I passed this one more often than I failed, but I'll leave it to her to decide :)


        • I will get out and see my friends. This means one event every now and then as well as coffee or tea with individuals at lunch or whenever our schedules align. This also includes golf :)
          • I had tea/coffee/lunch with several friends on several occasions and golfed with several people I hadn't golfed with previously. Big win on this front, even though it could still be more. I did start volunteering with Ignite Waterloo and that has opened up a whole new list of possibilities.


        • I will buy some local art
          • I totally did. A Jennifer Gough painting now hangs in my living room!

        • I will read more books written by people I know and I will give them honest and constructive feedback. I would be forever grateful if they would do the same for me
          • I did this but could also do more. I read every story in the anthology I was published in plus read books by Tess Thompson, Gordon Bonnet, Robert Chazz Chute. I need to do reviews for a couple of these still, but I will!

        I also had a few very specific writing goals to accomplish. They were stretch goals at the absolute best but I managed to knock off a few. My successes: 

        • Finished the first draft of novel #1 
        • Won NaNoWriMo (for the second year in a row)
        • Started a screenplay
        • Wrote 1 blog post every week for the entire year (plus a bonus post in memory of Ryan)

        That last one was absolutely instrumental in the success of my blog. For most of the year my traffic practically doubled, with an almost 400% increase for a few months near the end of the year as some writing-specific and NaNoWriMo posts got some good Reddit traction. 

        So what's in store for next year? Well for starters there will be a cop out start of year post but there will also be a few tips in there about a few things I've learned. Plus, I think I'm going to do a new weekly feature in addition to a weekly post. I'm still sorting out the details and I might do it in conjunction with another writer/blogger but stay tuned!

        That's it for me in 2013. Thanks to each and every one of you for reading and I wish you all a healthy and successful 2014.

        ~ Andrew

        Sunday, December 22, 2013

        Danny F*$&@! Kaye

        Well, it's almost the end of the year, and there will be many people taking some time off work over the next couple weeks. I'm no exception. I am on vacation this week and it couldn't have come at a better time. I just wrapped up a major project at work and I still have a few things to do before Christmas; not the least of which is watch some excellent holiday movies.

        My all-time favourite by a landslide is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation starting Chevy Chase. I don't know how many times I've seen it, but it's more than a few, and I can't get enough of it. With my kids getting a bit older now (11 and 7) I felt it was time they were introduced to this holiday classic. I had them close their eyes for the diving board scene and I "out of the blue" coughed loudly when Clark Griswold dropped the F-bomb. Other than that, it was perfectly only slightly inappropriate. It got laughs out of them and they weren't playing Minecraft so I'm happy.


        A couple weeks ago we took the kids to see what you'd think would be a more suitable movie, Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn. This is a 1942 classic starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. It's a good movie with some great old-time music. It was perfectly enjoyable but did get a bit awkward afterwards trying to explain to the kids why there was that one scene where a man and woman sang a number in blackface with an orchestra of actual black folks. I guess those wholesome good ole fashioned values didn't always hit the mark.


        Another Irving Berlin classic, White Christmas, will be watched as a family this year with Fred Astaire being replaced by Danny Kaye. My wife and I have seen the stage production and it's quite enjoyable. I know my daughter will like the music and my son the dancing so it should be a good time. No f-bombs and no blackface that I know of.


        Other flicks that might make an appearance at some point over the next few days include: Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Home Alone, A Christmas Carol (1951), Scrooged, Elf, Sound of Music, It's A Wonderful Life, Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), and of course Charlie Brown Christmas.

        No matter how you choose to spend these last days of 2013 I hope you get to spend it with people you love and care about, and for those who celebrate on the 25th I hope you have the hap hap happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap danced with Danny fucking Kaye.



        ~ Andrew

        Sunday, December 15, 2013

        You Are Getting Sleeeeeepy...

        I have suffered from insomnia for about four years now. If anyone out there has even gone a few nights without a good night's sleep you know how debilitating it can be. I spent the greater part of 18 months without more than a couple hours of uninterrupted sleep each night and I was basically a high functioning zombie.

        There was no shortage of people willing to impart their advice on the situation either:
        Have you tried this?
        Yes, it did not work.

        Have you tried that?
        Yes, it did not work.

        Have you been to a sleep study?
        Yes, twice. They prescribed me medication. It sort of worked but I had to take two pills every day.

        Hmm...
        Yes, hmm indeed.

        I sleep really well. Always have. I can sleep anytime anywhere. It's awesome.
        I'm sure it is. I've even gone to a six week information/instructional on how to sleep!

        Really? They have classes for that?
        Yes, and I fell asleep in the last lecture.

        Now that's irony at its finest.
        Indeed.

        Have you tried...
        Well, you get the idea by now I'm sure. At any rate, what does this have to do with anything? I'll meander y'all to the point in just a second, I promise.

        The key to sleep in humans is melatonin. The only word to describe this stuff is "magical", so naturally one of the things I tried was some melatonin supplements. I tried 0.5mg and later 0.25mg and I might have well been taking sugar pills. My non-expert opinion was that this was because it wasn't naturally occurring. You see, tryptophan metabolizes into seratonin; and if it's dark out it's further metabolized into melatonin, and that's the stuff that promotes sleep. Just plunking the melatonin in directly didn't seem to be working.

        So, enter in this stuff called ZenBev®. Sounds like new age hippy juice, right? Well it sort of is. I call it my magic pumpkin powder. It's basically powdered tryptophan made from pumpkin seed flour. The myth of the tryptophan loaded turkey dinner is partially true, only turkey has about as much of it as any other meat and three times less than dried egg white and about half as much as dried pumpkin seeds (if you care, the winner by a mile is Alaskan sea lion).

        Sea Lions Up Close courtesy Liz Noffsinger at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net 

        Again, you may be asking, what does this have to do with anything? Fine, I'll get right to it then. Thanks for sticking with me so far (hopefully still awake, though after first re-read of this post I wouldn't be surprised if you've nodded off).

        I tried ZenBev® and I immediately started sleeping better. Not more, but better. Same number of hours of sleep at night but I wasn't falling asleep at my desk at 3:00 every afternoon. The really awesome part though was that I started dreaming again. I've probably had less than a handful of dreams in the last four years and after two weeks on this magic pumpkin powder I'm dreaming five or six nights a week, and let me tell you, after going so long without recognizing that I'd had a dream this current influx has me discombobulated to say the least. It's not quite Jacob's Ladder crazy, but I have got to say it's really something.

        After a couple weeks of getting some better sleep I've felt the urge to be creative again. November was a bit crazy with NaNoWriMo and a work project is bringing some high stress moments at my day job so the first week of December wasn't much from a creativity standpoint. A couple weeks of dreaming though and my brain itching for creation again, and that's a good thing. I'm also starting to figure out what The Beatles were talking about in their song I Am The Walrus.

        I am the egg man.



        ~ Andrew

        Sunday, December 8, 2013

        Switching Gears

        Not quite two weeks ago I found myself approaching the 50,000 word mark for my NaNoWriMo project a good four or five days ahead of schedule. From the beginning, well before November 1st, I decided that I would "win" NaNo and then clean up the last 5,000 words (or so) of my first novel. Let me just tell you that as someone who was struggling to put the final touches on a first draft of a manuscript this seemed like a great way to finally just get 'er done AND be a good 50-60% of the way through my second book.

        (Yes, I just used bold, underline, all caps, and italics in the same sentence. Don't judge.)

        So, I crossed the 50,000 word plateau and found myself staring a NaNo victory in the face and I took an hour off to savour it. I even poured myself a (not so) small glass of 40 Creek Barrel Select Canadian whiskey. I went on Facebook and Twitter and I told the world that I had just achieved National Novel Writing Month success for the second year in a row. After 60 minutes of bragging and patting myself on the back it was time to ride the momentum of the writing train and switch gears.


        Here's the thing though, the book that I had just spent writing 2,000 words a day every day for 26 days is about a serial killer who preys on unsuspecting people (mostly women) who have broken some sort of ethical (and quite arbitrary) code. The book that I was putting the finishing touches on is about a paranoid computer genius with a medical secret who erases his digital history in an effort to hide from a surreptitious government agency who wants to use him as a pawn in a morally corrupt game of bio-warfare

        When I sat down at the end of my hour long reward/break I jumped right to a bookmark that I had put in my manuscript somewhere within the last five chapters of the book. For the next half hour I spent most of my time typing the wrong names and using language not normally associated with clandestine government operations and computer geeks. It was frustrating, and reading it back now it's quite clear it was pretty terrible writing. 



        So what did I do? I could have gone to the internet in search of answers but to be quite honest I didn't have the luxury of spending a lot of time surfing around for answers. I had a deadline, albeit a self imposed one, and I knew getting lost in the web would kill any momentum that I had going. Instead, I decided to look within.

        Here are the four steps I took to get me back on track:

        1. I spent ten minutes reading the scenes before and after where I had identified more work was needed
        2. I then picked a section that was heavier in narrative or action than dialogue and wrote until I got to a heavy dialogue section. I meandered through it and took my time, just getting a feel for the setting and the environment. Painting a picture, if you will - Bob Ross style. 
        3. Then, I reviewed my character notes and spent a few minutes letting each one's voice into my head; getting a feel for "hearing" them talk. What do their accents sound like? Do they have particular phrases they like to use?  Etc...
        4. Finally, I wrote a very dialogue heavy scene. Lots of characters saying lots of things to each other with very little punctuation and minimal dialogue tagging. I let their voices out and brought the characters to life.

        Within an hour I had written a few very good pages and I never looked back. The rest of the words just seemed to flow freely from then on.

        Would I recommend such a switch to others? Hard to say - I haven't been doing this long enough to know if it's a good practice or not - I just know that the one time I did it was a bit of a shock but it ended up working out just fine. Plus, I write a blog post every week no matter what I'm writing and those seem to be going well. So maybe variety is in fact the spice of life... and writing.

        I'd love to hear about your experiences with literary task switching; both successful and challenging experiences alike. Leave a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for reading!

        ~ Andrew

        Sunday, December 1, 2013

        Now What?

        The anatomy of a NaNoWriMo journey and what lies beyond


        It's somewhat convenient that December 1st falls on a Sunday this year as it allows me the opportunity to provide a post-NaNoWriMo analysis while it's still fresh in my mind.

        For starters, I won!



        Not everyone did, however, but that's okay. Unlike those techie jerks on Linux forums who berate and belittle those who don't "get it" I am equally as proud of everyone who tried and didn't make it to the 50,000 word mark as I am those who did. There were some truly inspirational stories this year to be sure, not the least of which is Cate, a high school girl in Ottawa who wrote 16,000 words on the last day to claim victory. Now that's impressive on so many levels.

        Cate's Graph. Check out days 10, 12, 19 and 30!

        What it takes for one person to meet the target is different for everyone. Notice I used the phrase "meet the target" instead of the word "success"? That's because success is different for everyone as well. Success for me was getting 50,000 words written on a new novel while tying up a few loose ends on the novel I started last year. Yes, it was considered "done" but there were a couple gaps that needed filling and I wasn't happy with it as it was. Not happy enough to say that I had finally written my first book, at least.

        Regardless of what the measure of success is, if you were simply trying to hit a target (50,000 words or some other number) or if you were trying to polish off that long forgotten manuscript, or if you were simply trying to see what you were realistically capable of stringing together in the time you weren't being a mom/dad/student/employee/vampire/zombie/werewolf/wizard/husband/wife/friend/hobbit/daughter/son; there are a few things that you'll need if you're going to pull it off:

        1. Desire
        2. Commitment
        3. Support

        Much like any other journey, it starts with desire. Desire to see something, see someone, accomplish something, make a difference... In a nutshell, you have to want to get off your ass in the first place (or in the case of writing, sit your ass down).

        Just starting isn't enough, though. You have to continue. You must persist. You have to be more than dedicated. You have to be committed. You have to be a pig. Say what?! This is a common analogy in the Agile software development world. Think of your journey as breakfast. Who would you rather be, the chicken or the pig? The chicken is dedicated. The chicken will wake up every morning with the sun and give you an egg. The pig, however, the pig is committed. The pig quite literally has skin in the game. The pig is committed, and you need to be as well (if not as you go then quite possibly - though in a different sense - after).

        Finally, you need support. I wrote back in January that while writing seems like a solitary practice it's actually not. It requires interaction and support from a variety of people. Surrounding yourself with people that understand and appreciate what you're trying to accomplish is absolutely necessary. A support network of people who have a genuine interest in what you're doing is absolutely invaluable. This year I leaned heavily on my wife, kids, and a couple Facebook groups of like-minded crazy people and it was absolutely instrumental to my success.

        So now what?

        If your novel is done, take some time off and distance yourself from it. Stat revisions and edits in the new year sometime. If it's not done then set a schedule and finish it. Me? Well, I'm shelving the novel that's complete, hitting pause on the 60% of one I just wrote, and trying my hand at writing a screenplay. After the screenplay is done then this year's novel will be finished and then I'll start revising novel #1.

        Whatever's next up on your agenda, I wish you all the best with it. I can't help you with the first two items on the list but I can definitely help you with the third one. Find me here, or on Facebook or Twitter anytime, and I wish you all good writing.

        ~ Andrew